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He is reported by his last biographer, Derrick, to have inherited, from his father, an estate of two hundred a year, and to have been bred, as was said, an anabaptist. For either of these particulars no authority is given'. Such a fortune ought to have secured him from that poverty which seems always to have oppressed him; or, if he had wasted it, to have made him ashamed of publishing his necessities. But, though he had many enemies, who, undoubtedly, examined his life with a scrutiny sufficiently malicious, I do not remember that he is ever charged with waste of his patrimony. He was, indeed, sometimes reproached for his first religion. I am, therefore, inclined to believe that Derrick's intelligence was partly true and partly erroneous".
From Westminster school, where he was instructed, as one of the king's scholars, by Dr. Busby, whom he long after continued to reverence, he was, in 1650, elected to one of the Westminster scholarships at Cambridge.
Of his school performances has appeared only a poem on the death of lord Hastings, composed with
Mr. Malone has furnished us with a detailed account of our poet's circumstances, from which it appears, that although he was possessed of! a sufficient income, in the early part of his life, he was considerably embarrassed at its close. See Malone's Life, p. 440.
wMr. Derrick's Life of Dryden was prefixed to a very beautiful and correct edition of Dryden's Miscellanies, published by the Tonsons, in 1760, 4 vols. 8vo. Derrick's part, however, was poorly executed, and the edition never became popular. C.
He went off to Trinity college, and was admitted to a bachelor's degree in Jan. 1653-4, and in 1657 was made M. A.
great ambition of such conceits as, notwithstanding the reformation begun by Waller and Denham, the example of Cowley still kept in reputation. Lord Hastings died of the smallpox; and his poet has made of the pustules first rosebuds, and then gems; at last exalts them into stars; and says,
No comet need foretell his change drew on,
Whose corpse might seem a constellation. At the university he does not appear to have been eager of poetical distinction, or to have lavished his early wit either on fictitious subjects, or publick occasions. He probably considered, that he, who proposed to be an author, ought first to be a student. He obtained, whatever was the reason, no fellowship in the college. Why he was excluded cannot now be known, and it is vain to guess; had he thought himself injured, he knew how to complain. In the life of Plutarch he mentions his education in the college with gratitude; but, in a prologue at Oxford, he has these lines:
Oxford to him a dearer name shall be
He chooses Athens in his riper age. It was not till the death of Cromwell, in 1658, that he became a publick candidate for fame, by publishing Heroick Stanzas on the late Lord Protectory; which, compared with the verses of Sprat and Waller, on the same occasion, were sufficient to raise great expectations of the rising poet.
y This is a mistake; his poem on the death of lord Hastings appeared in a volume entitled Tears of the Muses on the death of Henry Lord Hastings. 8vo. 1649. M.
When the king was restored, Dryden, like the other panegyrists of usurpation, changed his opinion, or his profession, and published Astrea Redux; a poem on the happy Restoration and Return of his most sacred Majesty King Charles the second.
The reproach of inconstancy was, on this occasion, shared with such numbers, that it produced neither hatred nor disgrace! if he changed, he changed with the nation. It was, however, not totally forgotten when his reputation raised him enemies.
The same year he praised the new king in a second poem on his restoration. In the Astrea was the line,
And horrid stillness first invades the ear,
for which he was persecuted with perpetual ridicule, perhaps with more than was deserved. Silence is, indeed, mere privation; and, so considered, cannot invade; but privation, likewise, certainly is darkness, and probably cold; yet poetry has never been refused the right of ascribing effects or agency
to them as to positive powers. No man scruples to say that darkness hinders him from his work; or that cold has killed the plants. Death is also privation; yet who has made any difficulty of assigning to death a dart, and the power of striking?
In settling the order of his works there is some difficulty; for, even when they are important enough to be formally offered to a patron, he does not commonly date his dedication; the time of writing and publishing is not always the same; nor can the first
editions be easily found, if even from them could be obtained the necessary information”.
The time at which his first play was exhibited is not certainly known, because it was not printed till it was, some years afterwards, altered and revived; but since the plays are said to be printed in the order in which they were written, from the dates of some, those of others may be inferred; and thus it may be collected, that in 1663, in the thirty-second year of his life, he commenced a writer for the stage; compelled, undoubtedly, by necessity, for he appears never to have loved that exercise of his genius, or to have much pleased himself with his own dramas.
Of the stage, when he had once invaded it, he kept possession for many years; not, indeed, without the competition of rivals who sometimes prevailed, or the censure of criticks, which was often poignant, and often just; but with such a degree of reputation as made him, at least, secure of being heard, whatever might be the final determination of the publick.
His first piece was a comedy called the Wild Gallant. He began with no happy auguries; for his performance was so much disapproved, that he was compelled to recall it, and change it from its imperfect state to the form in which it now appears, and which is yet sufficiently defective to vindicate the criticks.
* The order of his plays has been accurately ascertained by Mr. Malone. C.
& The duke of Guise was his first attempt in the drama, but laid aside, and afterwards new modelled. See Malone, p. 51.
I wish that there were no necessity of following the progress of his theatrical fame, or tracing the meanders of his mind through the whole series of his dramatick performances; it will be fit, however, to enumerate them, and to take especial notice of those that are distinguished by any peculiarity, intrinsick or concomitant; for the composition and fate of eight-and-twenty dramas, include too much of a poetical life to be omitted.
In 1664, he published the Rival Ladies, which he dedicated to the earl of Orrery, a man of high reputation both as a writer, and a statesman. In this play he made his essay of dramatick rhyme, which he defends in his dedication, with sufficient certainty of a favourable hearing; for Orrery was himself a writer of rhyming tragedies.
He then joined with sir Robert Howard in the Indian Queen, a tragedy in rhyme. The parts whịch either of them wrote are not distinguished.
The Indian Emperor was published in 1667. It is a tragedy in rhyme, intended for a sequel to Howard's Indian Queen. Of this connexion notice was given to the audience by printed bills, distributed at the door; an expedient supposed to be ridiculed in the Rehearsal, where Bayes tell how many reams he has printed, to instil into the audience some conception of his plot.
In this play is the description of night, which Rymer has made famous by preferring it to those of all other poets. The practice of making tragedies in rhyme was